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  • December 13th, 2010

Things That Go Bump In The Night

By Joel M. Vance

I don’t believe in ghosts…and yet there were those fresh batteries that unaccountably went dead….

Like all kids of my generation, I spent Saturdays at the local movie theater trying not to wet my britches as various ghostly apparitions loomed over me on the silver screen.

Were there real ghosts?  You betcha!  They lurked in the closet or in the basement and no one my age would dare go near a graveyard after dark.  And then I grew up and stopped believing in the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus and ghosts.  The local graveyard, once a place of drymouth fear, became a favored place for parking with one’s sweetheart.  It was quiet there and affection flowered with no interruptions from folks you could see through.

By middle age the only ghost I believed in was the fading image of my 401k, but then there were those batteries that went dead.

It happened during a “psychic investigation” in a huge old antebellum mansion, abandoned and nearly gone to ruin.  Over the decades one inhabitant had committed suicide in an upstairs bedroom.  The place went through the trauma of the American Civil War.  There was reputed to be a slave burial ground near the house.  Everything reeked of the supernatural.  The dank, cavernous cellar was spooky enough to frighten Stephen King in the daytime, let alone at night.

If ever a place deserved to be haunted it was this one.  A friend had invited a pair of self-proclaimed psychics to investigate the old mansion.  So my wife Marty and I joined them to spend as much of the night there as we could stand.

Because the house was being renovated there was no electricity or heat and it was November, which meant it was cold and dark both inside and outside.  Any of the famed “cold spots” that supposedly signal the presence of spirits would have been masked by the overall and quite natural chill.

The psychics, who were about as strange as the phenomena they were pursuing, claimed to sense all sorts of ghostly presences.  “Ooooh!  There’s someone on the staircase!”  I saw nothing.  “Look!  Ectoplasmic mist!”  I saw no mist and suspected it was condensation on the camera lens or maybe my breath.  I felt cold, but nothing else, no psychic tickles.  Oh, yes, and bored.

The psychics took many digital photos which showed “orbs” over which they exclaimed excitedly.  Orbs are little balls of light that show up on film or a digital image and could be (and probably are) dust motes or flying insects or camera light leaks—all earthly phenomena, nothing supernatural or paranormal.

I thought it moderately odd that one or two orbs remained in one spot, at a landing on the curved staircase.  Dust floats and it was too cold for bugs to fly.  “I get the feeling there’s a little boy sitting there,” said one of the psychics.  I got the feeling my toes were about to turn blue and fall off.  If it was a little boy, why didn’t he look like a little boy, not a 40-watt light bulb?  But what do I know about spirit manifestation?

I had brought along two Marantz professional quality tape recorders, equipped with batteries fresh out of the package.  They should have been good for several hours of recording “electronic voice phenomena,” those whispers from the Other Side that we don’t normally hear.  Theoretically you get home and just after you are recorded saying, “Well, there’s nothing here,” a hollow voice quite clearly says, “Let’s do lunch.”

I set one recorder on an upstairs landing, near the bedroom where the suicide happened; the other halfway down the stairs.  When I checked them an hour or so after I turned them on…both recorders were dead, batteries drained.

According to the folks on the popular SyFy channel’s “Ghost Hunters” show, “entities” can drain energy from sources such as batteries to gain strength so they can manifest themselves, open or close doors, knock, rattle chains, whatever.

Nobody manifested or rattled—I just had dead batteries with no explanation.  As much as I wanted to believe the resident spooks had stolen my juice, I couldn’t lay it to anything other than coincidence, cold weather, defective batteries or sheer bad luck.

The little boy orb?  I’d have been more convinced if I’d seen a diaphanous little kid sitting on the stairs giving me a ghostly grin.  The psychics were thrilled by all the activity which I didn’t share.  I was haunted only by a vicious cold that I caught in the dank mansion.

Maybe I’m ghost-immune.  Many friends have had paranormal experiences.  For example a fellow instructor at a writing workshop said she stayed in one of the college dorms alone one night and was visited by a benign ghost.  “There was a feeling of peace,” she said.  Of course it could have been the sherry she was nipping.

I stayed by myself in the same dorm, perhaps the same room, a couple of times and was visited by nothing, not even a mouse.  A niece, in another college dorm room, felt an invisible presence holding her down for a terrifying few moments.  Dorm rooms seem to attract either spirits or stories about them.  Perhaps I’m just not tuned into the specters of academia.  The only presence I ever felt in my college dorm room was the astral projection of the housemother, looking for forbidden beer—but maybe that was paranoia.

It’s not that I lack the imagination to believe in ghosts.  Not long ago on television I saw “The Uninvited” with Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey, a spooky 1940s ghost movie set on the foggy English moors.  It had scared me to the brink of enuresis when I was 10 and as an aging skeptic, alone in my basement, I felt the hair rise on my neck and I went to bed and pulled the covers over my head.

Maybe I’m with ghosts like poet Gillette Burgess was with purple cows: “I never saw a purple cow/I never hope to see one….”  Ditto ghosts for Joel Vance.


You really should buy my books because they’re quite entertaining and besides I need the money.

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1 Comment

  1. Thorn

    January 7th, 2011 at 3:20 pm


    Despite the bunk and cold, it still sounded like a good time!

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